In Thailand, I pay myself the minimum I have to to qualify for a work permit. It is 50,000 baht/month, about $1500. It is more than sufficient to live on here, especially as I don't pay rent or a mortgage. And I pay little tax, about 6%. And because I pay tax I get free health care.
In the UK I paid much more tax on a similarly modest salary, well over 30% at the time, and I also had to pay an additional 10% contribution for my free health care.
It is inevitable than in any society there will be haves and have-nots. It is human nature that the haves will resent having to pay for the have-nots but this is what they do through taxation. You can argue that a sign of the effectiveness of any society is its ability to take care of the have-nots.
There are many gaping holes in Thailand's society. It is easy to fall through them and very difficult to pull yourself out once you have fallen through. Thailand has almost full employment. Those without work can easily find it or can set up small businesses with little or no bureaucracy; from repairing air-conditioners to selling noodles. It also has a strong family support structure so those too old or ill to work will be taken care of by relatives or even friends.
And so it has been. Until Thaksin. Thaksin's greatest achievement was to give health care to the poor. I get free health care because I pay tax - no payments, no health care, and the majority of people in Thailand do not earn enough to pay tax. Thaksin introduced the 30 baht health care scheme: the old and infirm could now afford to have small ailments treated, and those seriously ill could afford to be treated instead of being left to die. To these people, the majority of those in Thailand, the people that provide the food for the noodle stalls and the swanky Bangkok restaurants or work twelve hour shifts in assembly lines, nothing Thaksin could ever do would take away this achievement. Never, since an elected government took control of this country in 1932, had anyone given anything to these people.
'Vote buying' they cried. They, of course, were the better off of Thai society, because it would be their taxes that helped to pay for this giveaway.
In the UK I resented paying my taxes because I felt I never got value for money. Initially single, later married with no children, to take one example, I failed to see why couples with children should be paid from my taxes for having the brats. The big argument now is that taxes pay benefits to illegal immigrants. Taxes helped to fund the war in Iraq, something many did not agree with. But the UK had a sort of democracy. the government were supposedly voted for by the majority of people and thus given a mandate to do these things. If I don't like it, well I'm a minority and have to put up with it; I can vote against it in five years time, I can form a protest group, but if insufficient people support me and my principle, well I can lump it or leave. I left.
Again, as in the UK, there is feeling here amongst those who pay the tax, that the poor are spongers; drunken, ill-educated layabouts undeserving of handouts. It is not an entirely inaccurate perception but it is also not entirely accurate, either. But the perception is reinforced daily as the recent Miss Thailand contest showed, when white skinned, tall, long nosed Thai women are paraded before a populace of dark skinned, short, button nosed Thai women. The Us and Them divide has rarely been more pronounced than it is in Thailand. It is no exaggeration to say the haves view the have-nots as another race, best eradicated as you would a cockroach.
As with most countries who presume democracy, there are only two parties here. One supports more the rights of the poor (although they themselves are never poor) and the other aligns itself more with better off. Before Thaksin both parties tended to align themselves with the better off - the haves. They rewarded themselves handsomely, awarded themselves lucrative contracts and fed off the work of the poorer people. This was the status quo. It is no longer. Thaksin didn't stop at the health care - he gave the people and villages loans, he gave them credit cards, and even after he was gone, his legacy party increased the minimum wage and gave the rice farmers subsidies. The poorer people had been given hope - no longer were they resigned to a life of servitude to the haves. And there was no reason for this to change, for Thailand is a democracy and the majority vote wins and that vote will always be the poorer people for they will always outnumber the better-off.
Thaksin also had to feed his family and they fed well - very well indeed. But the poor didn't care because he had given them something no-one else ever had. Why should he not get some reward for all this, they thought. It is not as if the have's government were not accompanied by plop sounds as they pulled their fingers out of various pies.
Of course, there is a point at which the giveaways had to stop. That point was probably reached just before the rice pledging scheme and certainly before the tablet computer giveaway. But the poorer Olivers of this country wanted more, their appetite was not sated and although Thailand is a country rich with resources, there has to be a limit.
And what of the haves? Of course they were unhappy about all of this. So they got rid of Thaksin but the problem didn't go away. So now they have got rid of another government aligned with Thaksin. Backed into a corner from which there was no escape they reacted in the only way they thought they could. And why not, it has worked before. This is coup number twelve after all. But the eleventh coup did not work. It temporarily placed in charge a government more to their liking, but today you cannot do that: almost no country can exist in isolation anymore. It needs to trade, to receive handouts for favours, to be part of the huge global con. And to be part of all this you have to at least pretend to have a democracy, these are the rules. The condemnations for the latest coup are already coming in thick and fast.
When the last appointed government was in charge the opposition camped out in Bangkok for months. Thaksin had empowered them. Perplexed, the appointed government reacted in the only way they thought they could and the Thai army murdered more than ninety of its own citizens. Power reverted back to Thaksin aligned governments at the next election. We have now repeated the cycle. And the outcome will be the same.
The haves are confused. It is the end of their reign and it will take some getting used to. They will try to fudge along for a while, to rig some election so they can win, but they are in the minority, a dying race, and their time has gone.
But they will not go without a fight and they have the army on their side (well the generals anyway). And after being empowered the poor people are impatient for more. Will they wait for natural extinction or will they enforce it. The answer to that question is the difference between a relatively peaceful outcome over the next five years or so and imminent civil war.
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